The one question everyone has is how much is it going to cost? A lot of times, that’s the first question asked when people call us. If it’s not the first thing they ask, it’s because they’re embarrassed to ask up front. I know, because that's what I would do in a lot of situations. So I know that even if it’s not the first question, it is still the question you really want to know the answer to; after all, you need to know if you are going to be able to afford it.
So I’m going to tell you the answer – at least the answer we give. It’s $5,000.00. Sometimes the response is a long silence, which is often followed by “thank you” and they hang up. A lot of people expect it to be far less. Maybe it’s because they’ve called around, or more likely it’s because they don’t really understand what is involved, and how lawyers set fees.
Most lawyers are going to be shocked I told you this. For some reason, they think fees are supposed to be some big secret you can only get the answer to if you come in and talk to them. They don't want other lawyers to know what they charge. I don't understand that. When potential clients come in to talk to us, they often tell us they've been to a certain lawyer, and they were going to charge X. Maybe it's so they can adjust the fee if they need to. I can tell you that's not something we do. If you want to hire us, you should be willing to pay what we ask.
Instead of simply telling you what our fee is, I’m going to explain how we come up with that amount.
First, of all, there aren’t any rules or formulas lawyers use. However, most lawyers base fees on certain things, such as:
- Reputation, and
Experience is one of the things that are important, but only to an extent. For example, suppose you have a lawyer who has been licensed for 35 years. For the past 34 years, he’s been working for a firm that handles insurance disputes, and they went out of business. He decides to go out on his own and starts handling criminal cases, including DWI’s. Even though the lawyer has 35 years of experience, he/she may only have 1 year of experience in handling DWI cases. Or you might have a general practice lawyer with 35 years of experience. He/she has handled DWI cases, but may only handle 3 or 4 cases a year, along with the other matters they handle. That’s not the same experience as a lawyer who handles 30-40 DWI cases a year. This includes a lot of criminal defense lawyers; just because they have handled criminal cases doesn't mean they handle a lot of DWI cases.
All lawyers go to – and graduate from – law school. That doesn’t make you ready to handle a case through. Lawyers are required to continue their education, and take a certain number of CLE hours each year. The reason for that requirement is that the law is constantly changing, and you have to keep up with it. Getting the basic number of CLE hours is a minimum though; it’s the equivalent of the student who does just enough to pass. Most people want a lawyer – or any professional – to do more than just “pass”.
When I started practicing law, there were not nearly as many CLE programs as there are now. We are fortunate to now have a lot of educational opportunities. We also have the option to attend “advanced” training. Most of those are multi-day programs, devoted to a specific topic.
DWI is an area that requires a lot of training if you want to stay ahead of the prosecution. DWI is a unique area of the law, that combines both law and science. Understanding, and keeping up with DWI law, is not that hard. Once you know the basics, you can keep up with the case results with minimal effort. A lot of CLE course have DWI updates, so it’s pretty easy to stay up to date, and at least know what the law is.
What’s far more difficult to do is to learn the science involved in DWI cases. Most lawyers don’t have scientific backgrounds, so understanding the science does not come easy. You might wonder why that really makes a difference The majority of DWI cases involve either a blood or breath test. Few lawyers look at anything more than the result. However, these are tests, and like all testing, the validity of the test depends on whether it is performed properly, and the machines are working correctly. You won’t know that unless you understand the tests, and know what to look for.
Over the last several years, there has been an increasing number of advanced courses on blood and breath testing. Most are at least a week long. As you might guess, they are also expensive – ranging from a little over a thousand dollars to several thousand dollars. That doesn’t include hotel and travel. By the time you add all of that up, you have spent several thousand dollars going to a course. While you don’t charge clients for the costs of those courses, you do expect to be worth more than the lawyer who doesn’t have knowledge.
Some lawyers go even farther and take the same training given to police officers for Field Sobriety testing. They also will have the certification police officers have, which can be useful in cross-examination. Again, those classes are not cheap; you can’t just go down to the police academy and ask them to let you sit in. You should expect to pay more for a lawyer that has the training. This is the certificate I received after taking the Field Sobriety Training - which was actually a lot of fun.
Texas has a certification process. While you cannot obtain certification in DWI law, you can obtain certification for criminal law and criminal appellate law. There are several parts to certification, and few lawyers seek it. First, you must be licensed at least five years – which is pretty minimal. You also must devote a substantial portion of your practice to criminal law. That by itself weeds out lawyers who only handle a few criminal cases a year.
The second part is recommendations. You have to provide the names of lawyers you have worked with, and judges you have appeared before. Those people are contacted and asked if they would recommend you for certification.
Finally, you have to take – and pass – a test to demonstrate your knowledge of criminal law. This isn’t an easy test and is like taking the bar exam all over again. They don’t make it easy, and a substantial number of people don’t pass it.
The end result is that you can be assured that a lawyer who is board certified has the experience and knowledge required to be able to say they are a “specialist”. As with anything else, you are going to pay more for a specialist. Think of doctors; a cardiologist charges more than a GP.
This one is a little more difficult to assess. You obviously want a lawyer who is respected by other lawyers and the courts. That way you know they are going to listen to what they have to say. That doesn’t mean they are always going to agree, but they are going to consider it because they understand the lawyer knows what they are talking about. Think of people you know. You probably have someone you respect, and you are going to give a lot more weight to what they have to say than someone you don’t know.
The problem is how to determine what a lawyer’s reputation is. One indicator is the opinion of other lawyers. I mentioned CLE programs earlier. The people who conduct those programs choose lawyers who they believe are experts in their field and have knowledge that other lawyers need to know about. You can be assured that lawyers who regularly appear in CLE programs have a good reputation among other lawyers.
Another indicator is press coverage. While anyone can get in the news – usually in a bad way – reporters quickly learn who the lawyers are that are respected, and seek them out when they need information on a particular topic.
Finally, we now have the benefit of reviews. While you have to be careful when evaluating what other people say, you can usually find a pattern. This is the online equivalent of going out and asking for recommendations. We can talk a lot more about reviews, but one thing I believe that is important is to look at the reviews provided by lawyers - if there are any. Again, lawyers know who the good lawyers are. You might think that lawyers will simply provide a good review for a friend, so they can return the favor. I'm sure that happens, but most lawyers are far too concerned with their reputation to endorse someone they know is not qualified.
The final factor is time. One of the factors that determine the amount of a fee is the amount of time that will be required to handle the case. That’s why it’s going to cost more to defend a murder case than a DWI case.
There are two approaches to setting fees in a criminal case. One is to charge a lower amount, with the hope of getting more cases. The downside to that is that the more cases you have, the less time you have to devote to each case. Practicing law is a business. Just like any other business, there are costs you have to pay to operate – rent, salaries, supplies, etc.. There is a certain amount you must take in each month just to operate, which is generally far more than most people would guess.
While a higher fee doesn’t guarantee that the lawyer is going to spend more time on your case, most lawyers who charge higher fees do so with the goal of handling fewer cases, so they can devote more time to each case.
Aren't all lawyers the same?
I hope that if you’ve gotten to the point in the article you recognize that there is a difference in lawyers. Just in case, I’ll talk about the assumption a lot of people have, which is that all lawyers are basically the same. Frankly, when I first got out of law school I thought the same thing. However, I learned early on that wasn't the case. The first time it hit me was after arguing a case before the Federal Court of Appeals. It was a multi-defendant case with several lawyers - all of whom I thought were pretty good. After arguments, one of the lawyers commented that he would have never raised one of the issues I presented - which was the issue the court seemed to be most interested in. It seemed pretty basic to me, and I was more than a little surprised that the other lawyer didn't also see it. The Court ended up agreeing with me and reversed my client's conviction. That was an eye-opening experience because I realized that if my client had the lawyer who made the comment to me, she would not have won - and might still be in prison.
I've since had that same experience several times. More than once I've had a District Attorney or another lawyer comment that they would have never thought to raise a certain issue, or I was the first person to point that out.
Everyone believes you get what you pay for - why should lawyers be any different?
You hire a lawyer to give you the best chance for success in a case - whatever success may mean in your situation. That's no different from decisions you make in other areas of your life - especially when it comes to your health. My wife passed away several years ago after a long battle with cancer. When she was first diagnosed, I wanted a cure. We liked the doctor we were with, but I wanted to make sure we left no stone uncovered. I asked around, and also did some research, and eventually found a doctor who was considered an expert in treatment; she was about to retire from seeing patients, and concentrate solely on research. I knew she would be current on all of the current treatment options, even those that might not yet be readily known to the average physician. We ended up seeing her, and she continued to monitor my wife's case and provide recommendations from time to time. She didn't have the cure, but I'm convinced her advice and guidance gave my wife several extra years of life.
In a criminal case, your health is not at stake, but something equally as valuable is. Your freedom. When we sought out the doctor I wasn't worried about the cost - which I figured I would have to pay. I was going to come up with it.
If you want to take advantage of our experience and knowledge give us a call
If you've spent any time on this site, you would probably guess that we aren't the cheapest lawyers around; and you would be right. We try to set fees based on the experience and knowledge we bring to the table, which will hopefully translate into a benefit to you. If the future of you and your family is important, give us a call at 254-296-0020, or fill out the contact section on this page.